Wrapup — The Celestial Toymaker

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST, WHILE WRITTEN IN 2014, IS BACKDATED TO FIT INTO THE CORRECT ORIGINAL POSTING SCHEDULE.

Hello everyone, the Historian here. At this point I am one full story behind where the Project actually is, but I hope to catch up soon! For now, let’s talk about one of Doctor Who’s early experiments.
I have to admit, I was surprised by how much disagreement and disapproval this story provoked among Project members.

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And that’s where I left things back in 2011, when the first iteration of this blog kind of ground to a halt. Ketina has gone over the whys and wherefores elsewhere, but briefly, writing the summaries and the pressure I was putting on myself got the better of me. I kept falling further behind, and the further behind I got, the harder it became to get myself going again…and two years got away from me. As I type this, we are about to finish the fifth season (one to go!), and the old blogspot website has lain fallow. Then, last year, Ketina decided to take matters into her own hands and here we are! She is posting our discussions and I plan/hope to add wrapup posts for stories and (I hope!) seasons. Eventually, if I get very industrious, I may even add some summaries!

All of this is a prelude to explaining that it will be difficult to completely reconstruct what I might have said back in August of 2011. (Since this will be backdated, I might as well mention it’s now January of 2014.) I have reread the episode posts and have reminded myself of some things I’d like to cover, but nothing will substitute for the immediacy I’ve missed. (Current wrapups will hopefully be back starting with “The Wheel in Space.”) So, my apologies!

Let’s start with the production background for this story (which I promised at one point during the episode discussions).
The Celestial Toymaker is one of those pivotal stories of the first few years, not simply because of its attempt at doing something different, but because of the many problems and changes behind the scenes. In fact, this story was the climax of the ongoing crisis that dogged the show through most of the second season: the conflicts between William Hartnell and John Wiles, Verity Lambert’s successor as producer (and, to a lesser extent, story editor Donald Tosh). As I’ve undoubtedly talked about elsewhere, relations between Wiles (who hadn’t wanted the job in the first place) and his leading man began frostily and deteriorated from there, to the point where the production team actually considered doing something radical.

Brian Hayles’ scripts, although apparently good enough to be accepted, were far too ambitious technically for Doctor Who’s budget. Tosh decided to rewrite the scripts (more on this below), and he and Wiles came up with a plan to solve their problem. As in the eventually transmitted scripts, the Toymaker makes the Doctor invisible midway through the story. Wiles and Tosh’s original idea was to have the Doctor reappear at the end–played by another actor!

Given the problems Hartnell was giving the production (battles with Wiles, occasional difficulty getting along with directors and guest stars, problems with line memorization/delivery, etc.), Wiles and Tosh felt that their decision, as the production team in charge, to replace their star would be upheld. As an added bonus, Hartnell’s current contract only ran until the final episode of this story anyway! Much to their dismay, their superiors (including new Head of Serials Gerald Savory and Head of Drama–and Doctor Who creator–Sydney Newman) absolutely refused to allow them to let Hartnell go and renewed his contract. This was the last straw for John Wiles, and, upon receiving word of the decision, he immediately tendered his resignation. Donald Tosh also quit, having found the situation to be intolerable. Producer Innes Lloyd and Story/Script Editor Gerry Davis (possibly the most important producer/script editor team in the show’s history, in your Historian’s humble opinion) were brought in as replacements and left to work on the remaining stories for season three.

In Lloyd and Davis, Doctor Who had found a production team that really wanted to be there and had some clear ideas on what they wanted to do. Unfortunately, the first thing they walked into was a story that needed a top-to-bottom rewrite. Tosh’s rewrite of Hayles’ Toymaker scripts had relied upon a convention meant to flatter Gerald Savory by homaging one of his plays, but Savory decided to withhold his permission to use his characters. Davis was forced to rewrite the scripts completely, subtracting some characters and situations and adding entirely new ones.

I’ve gone into far more detail than I’d planned already, so I’ll just direct you to Shannon Sullivan’s Celestial Toymaker page on his “A Brief History of Time (Travel)” behind-the-scenes site.

For fans of a certain age (young enough not to have seen it, but old enough to have read about how wonderful it was in Peter Haining’s 20th Anniversary “Celebration” book), this story has been one of amazing and unattainable mystery. This story was classic Doctor Who at its finest and most experimental, per Haining and other writers of similar books some 30 (wow) years ago. As one of those former youngsters, I was kind of excited to see this story (admittedly, in three-quarters reconstructed form), and to see what the Project thought! And…well…you can see for yourself what they thought in the episode discussions:

The Celestial Toyroom
The Hall of Dolls
The Dancing Floor
The Final Test

As for me…well…I am reserving a lot of judgement until I (hopefully someday!) see the actual episodes. One of the major problems, especially with the first episode, is how vital the visuals are, and Loose Cannon could only do so much, especially as so little visual material survives. That being said…I can understand why people thought this story was weird and experimental, but I don’t think it quite succeeds. Michael Gough’s Toymaker is wonderfully evil, but the whole thing feels a bit stagey and not completely convincing. I do hope that, should I ever have the good fortune to see the story in its entirety, my opinion will be subject to change!

And my, this has gone on too long already! I promise future “catch-up wrapups” will be much shorter! Only space enough to give you the link to the BBC episode guide for the story and then I will call this one done! Hooray! Obviously, more to come, but until then, I remain

THE HISTORIAN